Thursday, November 17, 2011

v2, d424: Top 7 (times 2) Disney Songs

Thanks to Twitter, I learned that it was 22 years ago today that The Little Mermaid first came out in theaters.  Crazy, huh?  I kind of wished I'd known about this date a year ago.  Then we could have made all sorts of "Ariel's old enough to go drinking" jokes.  (Hand me another of those...what's the word again?  Oh, margaritas!)  In honor of this momentous occasion, I've decided to dedicate today's Top 7 to my favorite Disney songs.

Only, the Disney canon is huge!  (Incidentally, I'll bet the Disney Cannon is pretty big as well)  So in order to better capture the scope of the Disney company's impact upon my formative years, I've decided to double the size of this top 7.  Introducing my Top 14 Disney Songs!  (And getting it down to 14 is actually pretty hard, too!)

Oh, a couple notes before we start.  First, I'm only including pieces that are (as far as I know) original to their respective Disney property.  That means nothing from either Fantasia.  Though those are brilliant and perfect.  Except for the celebrity cameos in the second one; those were just weird.  Second, I am a man. That means, when I was exposed to most of this stuff originally, I was a boy. Therefore, my tastes tended to gravitate toward the boy-centric pieces.  For example: I never liked "Part Of Your World."  Even as a kid, I was annoyed when she'd stop to remember the correct word for "feet."  The songs that always won Academy Awards were usually love songs, which means they were probably my least favorite parts of the movies.  That doesn't mean no Disney love ballads are on this list, but it does at least imply that the majority of my choices won't be seen on a lot of well-respected "Best of Disney" lists.  I loved the villain songs, I loved the big ensemble numbers, I loved the chase scenes, I loved stuff that was bizarre and creative, but I wasn't really into what I would have considered "the girly stuff" with very few exceptions.  Sorry, A Whole New World.  Also, I never even bothered with Pocahontas or Mulan.  (And after playing both films in video game form, I don't imagine I ever will)  You can have Cinderella, and I'll take The Lion King or Newsies.  That's just the way I grew up, and this list will reflect that.

Disclaimers out of the way, enjoy my top 7 14 Disney songs. 

It was between this and Chim Chim Cheree for the #14 slot, and I went with this one because it's just so dang happy.  This is Disney whimsy at its finest.  Uncle Reemus, I wish you were my uncle!  I mean, you just want to sit down and have a picnic with that guy.  He's having so much fun with those cartoon animals.  He's very high on life, but not in an obnoxious way.  It's always been hard for me to listen to this song and not whistle along.  What else can I say?  It always puts me in at least a slightly better mood.  

Villains almost always get the best songs.  It's true in Disney, it's true on Broadway (though really the two are the same these days), it's true in real life.  It's just the way it is.  This is a prototypical villain song in that the whole thing is the bad guy singing about what a jerk he is.  And loving it.  It's so fun, because he's such a jerk.  Please note Gaston isn't really "evil," he's just ridiculously self-serving.  Obsessed, even.  And through that obsession, he's eventually transformed from the guy in this number to the mob-leader in Kill The Beast.  This number, though, is just fun.  You love to hate the character, and that's exactly what this perfect movie is going for.  Because up to this point, the hero is still kind of dark and scary, so you need the bad guy to lighten things up.  

The stage version of this song is incredible, by the way, with all the refrains and the dancing and the beer mug clinking.  Look it up if you haven't seen it before.  

Is this one of the best Disney songs ever?  No, of course not.  And it sounds really early-90s as I listen to it now.  But it was a great theme song for a great show.  It sets the mystery-and-adventure mood perfectly and it made you want to sing along every single afternoon.  Admittedly, most of the Disney Afternoon shows had great songs.  (In some cases, the song was even better than the show)  Rescue Rangers hit that perfect balance between awesome song and awesome show (and awesome NES game, for the record), so that's why I chose it here as a representative of the entire DA crew.  But like I said, these were all solid tunes.  

Oh, man.  This song...this movie...

Okay, The Brave Little Toaster is a terrifying film.  At some point in the movie, you are led to believe that every single main character is dead or dying.  Blanket gets lost in a storm, vacuum runs over his own cord, radio is torn apart by the freaky guy, lampy overload and blows his bulb, it's awful.  They go through so much just to get to the boy's new home, and then when they get there, all his new stuff throw them into the dumpster and they get sent to the junk yard.  That's where we have this sad, awesome scene.  It's got to be the most fatalist song Disney has ever done in a kids' movie as car after car sings about its past life just before its compacted into a small metal cube.  It's crazy.  It's sad.  The doomed cars are basically telling the appliances that they're in the junk heap, they're worthless, and all that's left is to wait to be crushed.  It is so intense, and when there was a window of seven or eight years where I couldn't really remember anything about this movie, I always remembered this scene.  Can't say why I've always loved it so much other than it's just intense and exciting.  Even if it borders on the depressing.  (Good thing none of these cars were actual characters in the movie, or this film would have been responsible for an entire generation of counseling--as if the Bambi thing hadn't been bad enough!)

As with #12, this is kind of on this list as a representative of all the Silly Symphonies, but The Old Mill has always been my favorite.  Walt Disney took short form animation so seriously.  This clip is a work of art.  It won an Academy Award.  It's over seventy years old.  And it still looks so much better than even some of the computer generated animation we're showing our kids these days.  Old Mill was actually sort of a screen test for a new style of animation Walt wanted to use in Snow White.  I think he was pretty happy with it in the end.  Phenomenal piece.  

Two words.  King Louie.  Two more words: Villain song.  Sorta.  This film has a fantastic cast of character, and this is easily the most memorable scene in the film.  (I also love the vultures and almost put That's What Friends Are For on this list)  It's cool and jazzy and full of great "little moments," like Bagheera hiding by posing as a statue or the white-haired monkey doing whatever it is he does.  Everything about this scene is just fun.  (Though I can't help but wonder how Mowgli bounces back so quickly after being dropped on his head on stone.  Yeouch!)

Pirates of the Caribbean figured out that, if you're going to make me listen to the same song on loop for ten minutes while I ride a slow-moving boat through a cavern of robots, it had better be a pretty dang awesome song.  (Unfortunately, not all Disneyland attractions got that memo)  If you've heard this song once, chances are you've sung it or had it run through your head at multiple points in your life.  Even if most people don't know any words beyond "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.  We mumble mumble mumble mumble Drink up, my hearties, yo ho!"  It's like trying to write music for an old NES game.  It has to be simple and catchy and people have to be willing to listen to it repeat itself many, many times.  Well, twenty years later I'm still humming this tune, so they musta done something right.  

Incidentally, I absolutely loved all the ways they tied the first PotC movie to this ride, and that includes the use of the song.  Very well done.  Now, when will that Enchanted Tiki Room movie become a reality?  

Any guy my age who participated in musical theatre growing up kept hoping and praying that Disney would do the obviously awesome thing and make this film into a stage show.  Well, they finally have.  And now we're all too old and/or out of shape to be in it anymore.  Go figure.  

Every song in this movie rocks.  The harmonies are always tight, and I'm a sucker for a good harmony.  Mostly, though, they do a phenomenal job of capturing the mood of the scene, the period, and the characters. Which is obviously what is supposed to happen in a good musical.  I would always get so pumped up watching this scene.  It's basically an army of boys all out declaring war through song and dance. know, it works a LOT better than it sounds like it should.  And that's true of most of the songs in this film.  I would say it could be one of the strongest shows of composer Alan Menken's career if not for...

Okay, here's girly romance's addition to the list ;-)  I've actually never minded Disney's princesses or their love songs, but they're not usually my favorites.  (To be fair, Kiss the Girl and Once Upon a Dream almost made the list) Then there's this one.  Everything is just beautiful. Music, lyrics, and animation!  The video I've embedded is poor quality.  The scene is just magical.  I think this romance "works" for me so much more than most others because the Disney formula often relies heavily on love at first sight, and that is most definitely not the case with this one.  Instead you've got two people having to work through their own issues and prejudices to learn to love one, it's kind of like an actual relationship!  The biggest obstacle to their happiness is not an evil witch, it's their own faults and opinions.  (And then once they get those out of the way, there's the jerk who wants to kill the beast.  Small detail)  This song is lovely, it's placed perfectly in the film (from a dramatic structure standpoint, I mean), and the movie is probably the strongest overall fairy tale adaptation Disney ever attempted.  While not my favorite Disney movie (again, I am a man), it's definitely up there, and this song is nothing short of purely charming. 
I really didn't like this movie when I was a kid.  Then I got back into it through the music (and through Kingdom Hearts), and now I love it. It's so bizarre, but there's a lot of heart there.  And the songs are fantastic in a grim, quirky, yet charming sorta way.  There's a ton of atmosphere to these songs, and this one probably captures it the best.  Plus, remember I love big ensemble numbers, I love character songs, I love spectacle, and this song is all of those things.  I mean, I can see how you wouldn't like this song, but I love it.  The mayhem and suspense continue to build until Jack's grand entrance at the end, and it's just fun.  

Incidentally, now that Disney has finally got Newsies Broadway-bound, is it too much to hope for that Nightmare might be coming one day?  Imagine if they spent the money on this production that they spent on that one show with the Heelies!

This scene is perfect.  I love the transformation Ursula goes through from the saintly philanthropic octo-woman of the beginning to the mad cackling witch at the end.  This whole thing just goes berserk as Ariel gets swept away by the sea witch's crafty plan.  And it's clear that nobody has more fun than Ursula when she's being evil.  You can just feel her relishing every moment of this scene. This whole sequence is probably one of the greatest performances by an animated character of all time.  (Not counting motion capture here)  It's also a well-directed scene.  The lights, the color, the angles, everything goes from glum to chaotically revelrous, and I can't help but get caught up in the giddy insanity. 

This song is everything a showstopper should be.  It starts simply enough and gradually adds more performers, more tricks, more effects, more harmonies, until it's finally this epic celebration of hospitality.  I don't know how the Beast doesn't hear this. It's awesome in the movie.  It's awesome on stage.  It's just awesome.  Nearly the entire supporting cast is featured in this number, and this film has an awesome supporting cast.  A musical about an enchanted castle really should be magical, and this number definitely fits that description.

Ultimate villain song.  I still get chills when I watch this scene.  I love the pairing of Scar with the hyenas--who are excellent henchmen characters.  This is my favorite Disney movie, and this is my favorite scene from the movie.  This is where Scar turns the story on its head.  This is where the earth itself vents steam as Scar struts among the jagged rocks. It's where the hyena army is revealed, and they're not as hapless as Whoopi Goldberg and her pals.  Again, the sense of build and theatricality in this scene is spot on. I can watch this song several times in a row and not get tired of it.  And the final shot is eerie and imposing.  And it could just be that Nazi imagery that the animation brings to mind (wow, that's not pulling any punches), but everything about this number is sinister.  You don't see Scar getting the same scandalous joy out of his evil that Ursula gets.  He's just full of hate, and that's so scary the ground itself vaults him into the sky on a Mountain of Death.  Forget it, this song is just awesome.  It's everything I love about villains, musicals, theatricality, and rhythm rolled into one freaking amazing sequence.  

So, what tops it (in my book)?

Though my actual #1 will probably surprise you almost as much.


I have not actually seen most of this movie.  I don't think I've even heard any of the music from the rest of the movie (except for Hellfire).  In fact, I hadn't even seen this actual sequence of film until I just now looked it up on YouTube.  Before now, my whole experience with this song was my sophomore year of high school, when this was my solo for our high school spring choir concert, which was Disney themed.  (Side note: this is a tough song for a sophomore to sing!) (Another side note: after nothing but the piano/vocal arrangement from my memory, the cinematic version is actually a tad disappointing ;-)   

It's funny, because usually you have the Disney princess singing about how she wants more.  This time, it's the male lead--progress!  And while the facial animation for both Frolo and Quasimodo is a song itself is still gorgeous.  I love those intervals, and the melody is both haunting and hopeful.  Now, I never hear anybody talk about this song.  Actually, I never hear anybody talk about this movie.  So it may not be very good.  I don't know.  But I'll always smile when I hear this song, and I'll always hope Quasi gets his one day out there among the millers and the weavers and their wives (probably my favorite moment in the piece, apart from the creepy-ish opening).  

And I'll hope it turns out better for him than it did in the book.  


So there's my list.  This is a tough one to do, and if I were to do it again next week there's a good chance it would look a little bit different.  Over the years, Disney music has really run the gamut, from Silly Symphonies to theme park rides to Broadway musicals, and I've tried to capture some of that variety here.  I'm already second-guessing some of my own choices, because there are just that many great songs to choose from.  But this took SO FREAKING LONG TO WRITE that there's no way I'm going back to redo any of it.  Besides, I'm sure I'd still want to switch things around no matter how many times I revamp the list.  So consider this a top fourteen with an asterisk, if you will.  :-)

And of course, I'd love to hear your faves in the comments section, if you're bold enough to share. 

Honorable mentions go to Once Upon a Dream, I Just Can't Wait To Be King, Chim Chim Cheree, Making Christmas, The Winnie-the-Pooh Theme Song, Oogie Boogie's Song, Kiss The Girl, Pink Elephants on Parade, That's What Friends are For, Everybody Wants to Be A Cat, and the Darkwing Duck Theme Song.